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Primary Versus Secondary Headaches

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Primary Versus Secondary Headaches

Headaches, one of the most common health complaints, consist of pain or discomfort located in the head, face or upper neck. Headaches occur regardless of age, race or gender and range from mild to severe. Frequency, location and pain intensity vary depending on the type of headache.

Headaches are classified as either primary or secondary. A primary headache means that the headache itself is the main medical issue although there can be other contributing factors. A secondary headache is the result of an underlying medical condition, such as a sinus infection.

Primary headaches

Primary headaches can result from over activity of pain-sensitive nerves in the brain. They may be triggered by lifestyle factors, such as certain foods, alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, or poor posture. They may also have a genetic component. Primary headaches can be either episodic (occurring every once in a while) or chronic (occurring more often than not). Primary headaches are responsible for approximately 90 percent of all headaches.

Types of primary headaches

  • Migraines
  • Tension headaches
  • Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), including cluster headaches and paroxysmal hemicrania
  • Chronic daily headaches
  • Cough headaches
  • Sex headaches

Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are symptoms of a disease or medical condition. Secondary headaches can be extremely painful and may appear without warning. To alleviate the headache, the cause of the headache must be treated. Causes of secondary headaches include, but are not limited to, head or neck injuries, sinus infections, allergies, high blood pressure, tumors, concussions, other infections, medications, trigeminal neuralgia, pseudotumor cerebri or stroke.

Types of secondary headaches

  • Post-traumatic headaches
  • External compression headaches
  • Ice cream headaches or “brain freezes”
  • Medication-overuse headaches
  • Sinus/allergy headaches
  • Hormone-related headaches
  • Hypertension headaches
  • Exertion headaches
  • Caffeine headaches
  • Spinal headaches caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Thunderclap headaches, a group of disorders with multiple causes

Individuals should consult a health care professional if headaches are severe or persistent to receive a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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